Wednesday, April 23, 2014

These Mortals by Margaret Irwin

(This picture is from VintagePrintages).

This was an enchanting, sweet and amusing story about the ethereal and mermaid-like Melusine, who leaves her father and travels to a royal court.  Melusine has to cope with a lot of rather nasty people here, such as a princess and a seducer.  Luckily, she has the help of a raven, a cat and a snake, and she has the ability to walk on moonbeams.  Her real troubles begin when she falls in love with the handsome man in the palace dungeon...

I found this difficult to read at times because the lengths of the sentences didn't vary much.  However, I am not used to reading fantasy.  However, I was pleased to get away from my problems for a while and escape to the splendid palace with Melusine. Historical novels were definitely Margaret Irwin's forte.  I recommend her trilogy about Princess Elizabeth.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Flyover Lives by Diane Johnson

This is a rambling but enjoyable memoir that compares the lives of Johnson's ancestors with American lives today.  Johnson also looks into her background to discover why she left American and why so many Americans prefer to live in Europe.  Many Australians prefer to live in Europe as well, so I especially liked this part of the book.

I usually like history, but the lives of Johnson's ancestors were extremely miserable.  One had several children  who died of scarlet fever.  This part of the book was a bit hard to read, although Johnson's youth in the American Mid-West actually seemed a bit exotic to me. I could easily understand her longing to escape, however, and the dreadful feeling of being trapped in a dull, provincial place.

The last part of the book was more interesting, I thought.  Here, Johnson writes about how she met and worked with Sylvia Plath, her experiences with film scripts and finally finding contentment in marriage and moving to Europe.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Banish Clutter Forever: How the Toothbrush Principle will Change your Life by Sheila Chandra

This is certainly the best de-cluttering book that I've read so far.  The toothbrush principle certainly helped me get rid of old makeup in the bathroom.  Most of the tips and suggestions here are very useful.  However, I am still having trouble getting rid of books and magazines.  A shredder is also necessary.

Chandra writes well and she even manages to make this book interesting.  Her book deals with de-cluttering in an extremely well-organised way - she has chapters for each room. It also explains why people have clutter.  She even has suggestions for having a better wardrobe! I also liked the website, and I did the quiz.  However, I kept getting an error message when I tried to sign up for the newsletter.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Life in Motion by Misty Copeland

This is an inspiring tale of hardship, determination and courage by the young ballerina Misty Copeland.  She tells the story of a troubled and peripatetic childhood with a mother who moved from place to place, a legal battle and a fight against racism.  Finally achieving her dream to be a black soloist with the American Ballet Theatre was a long and hard road.

Luckily, a lovely ballet teacher spotted her talent and even took her home to live with her. Misty's mother fought to get her back, however.  Misty also found other mentors to help her, but it was extremely difficult for an African-American ballerina to achieve a starring role, and coming from a working-class background made this even harder. Before you think that this book might be a bit too miserable, however, be assured that Misty also includes stories of the rather glamorous life that she led in New York, and writes about her professional collaboration with Prince.

She also writes about how she sets an example to young women, and how she helps young African-Americans from poor backgrounds become dancers.  As well as being a great ballerina, she's also very admirable.

This was a traumatic tale - Misty also had lots of injuries that set her back, and she also suffered from a serious lack of confidence in her abilities on several occasions.  However, ballet-lovers will enjoy this well-written autobiography.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Secrets in the Fairy Chimneys by Linda Maria Frank

I couldn't resist a title like this, and I was right! This exciting YA novel by Linda Maria Frank has a savvy heroine, a handsome and likeable hero, and it involves a mystery story set in the exotic Turkish location of Cappadocia which is filled with strange rock formations and caves.  There are also two helpful children willing to play detectives.

Annie, a young archeology student, goes with her boyfriend Ty to assist on a dig.  As soon as she arrives, there's trouble.  Who is stealing artifacts and why is someone threatening her?  Who is causing dangerous accidents at the site?  Is it anything to do with a rather nasty Russian member of staff?  Annie and Ty will have to tread carefully as they try to solve these mysteries.

The location was almost like a character in this book.  Linda Maria Frank's writing excels when she describes the desert setting and the 'fairy chimneys' of the title. I must read the other books in the series!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

John Wayne, The Life and Legend by Scott Eyman

This book was a bit long and dull, so I didn't finish it.  It is certainly a thoroughly-researched analysis of Wayne's life and films.  I did find the story of his tough journey to the top interesting.  He had to overcome an unstable and relatively poor upbringing, shyness and insecurity and a hard apprenticeship in B-grade movies. The part about his affair with Dietrich was also intriguing, but it's only a tiny section of the book.

The Perfect Match by Katie Fforde

Reading a novel by Katie Fforde is like going for a relaxing walk in the country. Her novels are always charming and delightful, and The Perfect Match is no exception.  I think that it is one of her best novels yet.

The Perfect Match features two stories - Bella's and Alice's.  Bella, the young and likeable heroine, left her last job because she was in love with Dominic, a married man.  Now she is engaged to her boss, Nigel, but she has doubts.  When Dominic, now divorced, moves into town, her conflicted feelings increase.  She is also puzzled by what Nigel's strange behaviour in the real estate agency.

Bella lives with Alice, her godmother, who is 60 and has never married.  When Alice meets Michael, she starts thinking about romance again.

Fforde combines the two plots in a masterful way.  I especially liked the touch of mystery and excitement.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport

This beautifully written and thoroughly researched book by Helen Rappaport brings the four young girls to vivid life and tells their tragic story with great sensitivity.  There was sensitive and outgoing Olga, organized and efficient Tatiana, sweet Maria, and mischievous Anastasia.  These girls were forced to live an extremely constrained and surprisingly austere life because of fears of terrorism, their brother's haemophilia, and their mother's determination that they should lead simple and rather thrifty lives.

They rarely had a good time and their mother's constant illnesses and unsocial behaviour didn't help them.  Many relatives were shocked by the way in which Empress Alexandra brought the girls up - they led isolated lives and they were hardly ever permitted to go to balls and dances even when they grew up.  Her reliance on Rasputin, although understandable, must have been yet another strain on the young girls.

Many people in society also disapproved of Empress Alexandra's making the girls into volunteer nurses during the First World War.  They thought that this prevented the monarchy from maintaining its mystique, and that this was unsuitable work for the Grand Duchesses.  The Grand Duchesses should be praised for coping with this dreadful work so admirably and without much complaint.

Rappaport certainly does the story of these lovely young women justice.  My only complaint about the book is that I think that she is a little too waspish about Empress Alexandra at times, however.  I find the Empress difficult to like as well, but Rappaport seems to be quite hard on her being ill much of the time.  She could hardly help that!

This is highly recommended for any lover of Imperial Russian history.  I was very pleased to get the ebook free from Net Galley, but I'll certainly buy the paperback as well!